How to Recycle Light Bulbs Safely - Public Goods

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How to Recycle Light Bulbs Safely

If you’re the kind of person who always strives to make eco-friendly choices in life (and if you’re reading our blog, you probably are!), then you know how difficult and overwhelming recycling can be, especially when it comes to certain items.

compact fluorescent light bulb in ceiling light fixture

One of the most common and perplexing recycling questions is how light bulbs should be recycled. Unfortunately there is no simple answer.

Because there are so many different types of light bulbs on the market, the answer is different for each type. At this point you might be worried about becoming even more confused about light bulb disposal, but don’t fret.

After reading our guide on light bulb recycling, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to properly recycle this common household item.

Incandescent Bulbs

incandescent light bulb

When most people imagine a light bulb, they picture an incandescent light bulb. It’s the kind Edison invented (or at least pioneered), the kind that appears above a cartoon character’s head when they have a brilliant idea — you get the picture. While prized for their soft, natural light, incandescents are also the least eco-friendly kind of bulb. They are energy-inefficient and don’t last nearly as long as the other kinds of light bulbs on this list.

Recycling incandescent bulbs is not as easy as putting them in your bin and bringing them curbside on recycling day. Because the melting point of their glass is different from other kinds of recyclable glass, they could ruin an entire batch of normal curbside recycling and even damage a recycling plant’s machinery.

Instead of throwing them in with your cardboard and plastic, you need to bring them to a special recycling center or drop-off location. Enter your zip code on to see places near you that recycle this type of bulb. In your search, you may even find programs like Lampmaster Recycling Services that allow you to recycle light bulbs through a mail-back program. You can also consider TerraCycle for recycling any type of light bulb.

If you’re unable to visit one of these locations or mail your incandescent bulbs to a recycling service, you can safely dispose of them in the trash alongside the rest of your household waste, as they do not contain any toxic chemicals.

Just be sure to put them into some kind of container. If they shatter, they could puncture the garbage bag and hurt someone.

Halogen Bulbs

halogen light bulb

A halogen bulb is a type of incandescent bulb that operates with greater efficiency than the standard incandescent model. While concerns over fire safety and environmental impact have led to halogens falling out of favor and even being banned in some countries, they are still widely installed in applications such as floodlights and car headlamps.

Because halogens are a subset of incandescents, the instructions for recycling them are the same as above. Find a local recycling center that takes halogen light bulbs and bring them there, or mail them to a recycling program. If neither option is available to you, they can be safely disposed of in the trash.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

compact fluorescent light bulb

When it comes to eco-friendliness, fluorescent light bulbs massively outperform incandescents. A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) uses significantly less energy than a traditional bulb. CFLs also last up to 10 times longer, meaning they produce a lot less waste than other bulbs.

There is, however, one environmental issue with fluorescents: they contain very small amounts of mercury, a toxic chemical that can cause major health issues to people who are exposed. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are around four milligrams of mercury sealed within the glass tubing of CFLs. However, this is an extremely small amount compared to older thermometers, which contain approximately 500 milligrams of mercury. You would need over 100 CFL bulbs to match the amount of mercury in one of these thermometers.

Although no mercury is released when the CFLs are in use, mercury vapor can escape when a CFL is broken. Therefore, it’s absolutely important to recycle mercury-containing CFLs at centers capable of handling them instead of disposing of them in the regular trash can or household recycling.

Major retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and IKEA often have drop-off centers where you can bring your fluorescent bulbs. Do a search on to find a nearby location of one of these stores or another CFL recycling center that recycles fluorescents. These bulb recycling centers accept common household CFLs along with fluorescent lamps and the long fluorescent tubes you might find in an office or school.

LED Bulbs

led light bulb

Using 75% less energy and lasting 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are the most energy-efficient lighting choice on the market. Their upfront cost may be a bit more than other light sources, but they’ll save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the years because they’re so efficient and long-lasting. They also pose almost no fire risk because they emit much less heat than other bulbs.

So how do you recycle these hi-tech gizmos once they’ve finally given out? If you need to dispose of LED Christmas lights, several recycling centers — including Home Depot — will take them: click here for a list.

But when it comes to other sorts of LEDs, your options are more limited. You can call local recycling centers or TerraCycle to ask, but if you don’t have any luck, you may have to mail your light bulbs to a provider called Veolia, which appears to be the only provider that currently takes all manner of LED lights.

You may be wondering about the impact of throwing LEDs into the trash. While it is legal and the EPA considers it safe to dispose of them in landfills, a 2011 study found that LEDs may contain unsafe levels of lead, arsenic and other hazardous substances.

The jury is still out on the safety of LEDs, so the choice is up to you. Thankfully, LED bulbs last so long, there might be more research and more recycling options by the time you need to dispose of yours!

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From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.

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